Wuzhen: Traditional No More

Described as ‘the Venice of the East’, it’s easy to see the appeal of Wuzhen. Traditional Chinese boats meander down calm canals and the whole place has a relaxed, old-world feel to it. Or at least it would, had it not become a huge tourist attraction, Daljinder Nagra.

Walking through a large coach park and joining the long queue for tickets, it might as well have been Disneyland we had pulled up outside, rather than an ancient centre of culture. The throng of visitors and guides squawking into loudspeakers are at odds with the sleepy village on the other side of the entrance.

Much of ancient Wuzhen has been preserved intact, indeed it looks as though China’s rapid economic and industrial growth has passed it by. This, of course, is the appeal for those looking for ‘traditional’ China; but whilst it is still a functioning town, tourism has tainted it to the point where it is more akin to wandering through a re-enactment of a Chinese village. Old folk playing mah jong in dimly lit backrooms, juxtaposed with market stalls hawking all manner of plastic tat, to terrible effect.

Wuzhen is the sort of place you’d wish was a well kept secret. It’s beautiful and intriguing in equal measure, but much of its appeal is being eroded as more people go to experience it.

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